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Wine Review: Polish pleasures

The Czech Republic's northern neighbor offers burgeoning vineyards


Posted: February 1, 2012

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Wine Review: Polish pleasures

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Poland's diverse wine-making includes stellar varietals.

By John & Helena Baker    

FOR THE POST

"Hic sunt leones," or "here be lions," cartographers in days gone by were wont to inscribe on their maps when confronted by uncharted oceans and unknown lands. For wine explorers, a trip to Poland may contain many surprises, though they will unlikely find lions. There is, however, no lack of winemaking activity.  

If the Czech Republic is reckoned as being on the northern viticultural extremity, how is it that wine grapes thrive in the land of the country's northern neighbor, where there are now around 1,000 hectares under vine? One can't put all this down to global warming, since, before falling victim to the economic woes caused by the wars of the 17th century, Poland had a long tradition of winemaking.

Vineyards can be found in places as diverse as Lublin, Kraków, a small outpost on the Baltic coast and along the western border with Germany. In fact, it is this last that provides the biggest surprise since, prior to World War II, Grünberg was actually Germany's largest wine region, with 2,000 hectares of vineyard, including that of the first and best-regarded classical sekt producer in Central Europe, founded by August Grempler back in 1826.   

How was Grünberg a part of Germany? The fallout from the war brought a whole raft of changes not only to the borders of Germany but also to the nations that found themselves on the far side of the Iron Curtain.

For Poland, this meant shifting the entire nation to the west, gaining a good slice of defeated Germany, with the Soviet Union in return grabbing the eastern territory, now in Ukraine. This stretched as far as Moldova and, ironically, Zaleszczyki, then a famous wine town on this border, which was at the time Poland's foremost vineyard region in which Poles, Jews and Ukrainians had long co-existed. The Poles were forced to migrate west, while very few of the once substantial Jewish population survived the Belżec extermination camp.    

Grünberg (Green Mountain), on the other hand, became known by its Polish name, Zielona Góra. And, with the expulsion of the German population and the subsequent advent of communism, winemaking slowly collapsed, with the last vines vanishing in the 1960s. Wine could be imported much more easily from Hungary and Yugoslavia. By 1990, Polish wine had ceased to exist at a meaningful level, while quality had sunk to a dreadful low.  

As for the rebirth, it is now almost 30 years since acknowledged Polish wine guru Roman Myśliwiec, the so-called Dionysos of Jasło, began planting a vineyard in the Sub-Carpathian region in the country's southeast corner. He soon came to the conclusion that the future lay mainly in new crossings and resitant varieties like Rondo, Maréchal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Regent, Aurora, Jutrzenka and Solaris, which are better able to cope with extremes of frost and cold. He has written a keynote book on the subject, 101 Wine-Grape Varieties, and makes a living from wine alongside a commercial and experimental vine nursery in which he can test up to 200 varieties at any one time.        

While quality still remains patchy, many enthusiasts are joining the fray, and winemaking has become a fashionable activity for the business elite. Such examples are Winnice Jaworek, founded in 2001 in Miękinia, near Wrocław, by a successful entrepreneur, originally as a hobby, now with 23 hectares and daringly using mainly traditional grape varieties, and Pałac Mierzęcin, recently reconstructed as a luxury hotel and spa, whose winemaker is California-trained Piotr Stopczyńsky (Palacmierzecin.pl).  

Prices in local shops are relatively high, the equivalent of 200-300 Kč a bottle, which, given the miniscule national production of 30,000 bottles, corresponds.   

Winery of the month: Vinné sklepy Roztoky - Ludwig Wines

Ludvík Šlancar has been running his wine business since 1990, starting out in an old cellar in Roztoky u Prahy. While still retaining this as an administrative hub, he now has his principal production outlet in Bořetice in south Moravia, with his only vineyard nearby in Moravská Nová Ves. These 10 hectares barely suffice, however, for an annual turnover of almost 2 million bottles. But Šlancar's far-reaching business acumen soon led him to become virtually the Czech Republic's first négotiant, a French term for those who buy in large amounts of grapes from outside sources, including abroad. A variety of ranges is produced, from basic supermarket fare to the flagship Ludwig Culinary Collection intended for the restaurant trade.  More on: Vinnesklepy.cz  

Wines of the month

White: Riesling 2010

Producer: Lech & Ewa Jaworek, Winnice Jaworek, Lower Silesia, Poland     

This straw-hued rarity from Poland's biggest and arguably best winery offers a nose replete with an abundance of exotica, laced with minerality, even a hint of petrol. The delicous palate of peaches, apricots, citrus fruit, chamomile and lime flowers is typical for this noble variety.  See also Winnicejaworek.pl. (290 Kč)

Red: Zweigeltrebe 2010   

Producer: Knápek & Machů, Velké Bílovice, Moravia  

This popular Austrian grape variety has found its home in the Czech lands, too. It hails from the wine village of Velké Bílovice, where this father and son-in-law outfit has been making wine since the late '90s, gaining quite a reputation. With a deep purple robe and a youthful, lively appearance, this intense wine evokes red stone-fruit, and plum compote on the nose, which carries through onto the palate where it knits together with an elegant spiciness. (150 Kč)

Events diary  

Club Vivanova, run by Bradley Mitton of Mitton Wines, regularly presents food-and-wine dining experiences in Berlin, Prague and now even Monte-Carlo. The next event is scheduled for Prague Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at Hotel Kempinski. The theme is Waitangi and Australian Day (with Anzac ambassadorial presence), a presentation and tasting of the Bellvale Winery by the owner John Ellis himself. Reservations are a must at just 975 Kč, all-inclusive, the event being heavily subsidised by the winery and embassies involved. Contact info@mittonwines.de.   

The writers can be reached at features@praguepost.com


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